Health News Roundup

Racial disparities in overdose deaths, and more in this week’s roundup

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Doctors less likely to respond to Black patients’ emails, study suggests
Maya Goldman, Axios, Mar. 21
Black patients may be less likely than white patients to receive a response from doctors to emailed questions. A new study suggests that Hispanic and Asian patients were also less likely to see a response. While online patient portals are meant to allow patients easier access to their physicians, experts worry it could be another example of technology furthering health care disparities. Researchers suggest the differences in response rates could stem from differences in the types and content of messages or implicit bias. Only one academic health center was studied, so study authors said the findings may not apply more broadly and more research is needed.

Overdose deaths hit another record but show signs of leveling off
Lev Facher, STAT News, Mar. 21
The U.S. reached a record number of drug overdose deaths in 2022. A large majority of deaths were driven by fentanyl. The U.S. has also seen a widening of racial disparities in overdose deaths. While overdose deaths among white Americans decreased slightly from 2021 to 2022, overdoses among Black Americans increased. American Indian and Alaska Native people experienced the largest increase in overdose death rates among all demographics. However, the country’s overall overdose rate does appear to be leveling off after years of steady increase. 

Are maternal deaths being overestimated? CDC disagrees with new report
Andrea Rice, Healthline, Mar. 15
A recent report suggested the number of maternal deaths in the U.S. may have been overestimated. Researchers said the 2003 inclusion of a pregnancy checkbox on death certificates, which showed whether a person was pregnant at or near their time of death, misrepresented the increase in the number of maternal deaths. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it disagrees with this analysis. “The methods used in the AJOG report are known to produce a substantial undercount of maternal mortality. That’s because there are maternal deaths occurring that would not otherwise be identified if the death certificate didn’t include a pregnancy checkbox,” a CDC spokesperson said. In both cases, women of color had disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality.

Black, Hispanic adults on Medicare with dementia face higher costs, study shows
Kristen Fischer, McKnights Long-Term Care News, Mar. 21
A new study found that Black and Hispanic people on Medicare had higher costs to treat their dementia compared to white people. Researchers looked at the costs for care a year before a person was diagnosed, during the first year, after the first year and then during the last year a person lived. Costs were highest for Black patients during every phase of care. Study authors said greater use of high-cost services like emergency department visits and intensive care drove these differences.

New Haven doctor publishes book highlighting resilience of Latina migrant moms during COVID-19
Lau Guzman, The Record-Journal, Mar. 19
Dr. Jessica Cerdeña, a medical anthropologist, recently published “Pressing Onward,” a book about the strength and resourcefulness of Latina migrant mothers in New Haven. The book focuses mainly on the difficulties faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as being laid off during the pandemic or not being able to access health care. The author hopes other doctors will read the book and take these stories into account when providing care. “Trauma-informed care is a very nebulous term, but really intended to recognize that people come from different backgrounds and experiences and try to meet people where they are,” Cerdeña said.